Eye Candy, Window Dressing and Deep Pockets.

I came back from six weeks abroad to see the beginning of the Internet Party’s “Party party” launches. It leaves me with some questions.

It seems that what the Internet Party has done is this. Using Kim Dotcom’s wallet as a springboard, it has selected a candidate group largely made up of attractive metrosexuals (only a few of whom have political experience), recruited as window dressing a seasoned (and also attractive) leftist female as party leader (even though she has no experience in the IT field), and run a slick PR campaign featuring cats that is long on rhetoric and promises and short on viable policies. The stated aim is to get out the apathetic youth vote and thereby reach the three percent electoral threshold.

The strategic alliance with the Mana Party makes sense, especially for Mana. They get additional resources to more effectively campaign for at least two electorate seats, especially given that it looks like the Maori Party is moribund and the Maori electoral roll will be more contestable even if Labour tries to reclaim its historical support in it. The Internet Party gets to coattail on Mana’s activism and the presence of relatively seasoned cadres on the campaign trail. Between the two, they might well reach the five percent threshold, although current polling suggests something well less than that. The lack of political experience in the Internet Party could be problematic in any event.

But I am still left wondering what the IP stands for and how it proposes to effect change if its candidates are elected. We know that the IP came about mostly due to Dotcom’s hatred of John Key. But Dotcom is ostensibly not part of the IP, which makes his attention-grabbing presence at its public events all the more puzzling. Leaving aside Dotcom’s background and baggage for the moment, imagine if major financial donors stole the stage at Labour, National or Green Party rallies. What would the reaction be? Plus, hating on John Key is not a policy platform, however much the sentiment may be shared by a good portion of the general public (and that is debatable).

Giving free internet access to all seems nice, but how and who is going to pay for that? Wanting to repeal the 2013 GCSB Act and withdraw from the 5 Eyes intelligence network sounds interesting, but how would that happen and has a cost/benefits analysis been run on doing so?  Likewise, opposition to the TPP seems sensible, but what is its position on trade in general? The policies on the environment and education seem laudable (and look to be very close to those of the Greens), and it is good to make a stand on privacy issues and NZ independence, but is that enough to present to voters?

More broadly, where does IP stand on early childhood education, pensions, occupational health and safety, immigration, transportation infrastructure, diplomatic alignment, defense spending or a myriad of other policy issues? Is it anything more than a protest party? Nothing I have seen in its policy platform indicates a comprehensive, well thought roadmap to a better future. In fact, some of the policy statements are surprisingly shallow and in some cases backed with citations from blogs and newspapers rather than legitimate research outlets.

Is having attractive candidates, catchy slogans and a narrow policy focus enough for IP to be a legitimate political contender?

I have read what its champions claim it to be, and have read what its detractors say it is. I am personally familiar with two IP candidates and have found them to be earnest people of integrity and conviction who want more than a narrow vendetta-driven agenda opportunistically married to an indigenous socialist movement. I would, in fact, love to see it succeed because I think that the political Left in NZ needs more varied forms of representation in parliament than currently available.

So my question to readers is simple: is the IP a viable and durable option in the NZ political landscape, or is it doomed to fail?

One thing is certain. If dark rumours are correct, the government has some unpleasant surprises for the IP in the weeks leading to the election. If that happens, it may take more than Glenn Greenwald and his revelations about John Key and the GCSB to redeem the IP in the eyes of the voting public. I would hope that both Dotcom and his IP candidates are acutely aware of what could be in store for them should the rumours prove true, and plan accordingly.

6 thoughts on “Eye Candy, Window Dressing and Deep Pockets.

  1. For a political party built from scratch in the last six months or so there are bound to be a few gaps in policy and personality.

    When National was formed out of the ashes of the Reform party in the 30s I doubt that would have resembled the fully formed party that it is today or been able to articulate policy as it does now.

    It’s true that the impetus behind the party seems like a marriage of convenience for revenge or short term political gain but what political party forms for altruistic reasons (if I remember correctly National came about through an alliance with the Reform and another party at the time).

    Also as pointed out there are committed people in the party who have a genuine vision and it will be those people which will determine the party’s future course and successes if it gets into Parliament.

    Finally the idea that there is a disenfranchised voter base out there waiting for a party that better represents its interests has a lot of merit. Lowered voting numbers and lack of interest by younger and marginalised voters who see no value in the same ol political hacks in the same ol parties with the same ol agendas but may vote for a party that better represents and better articulates their wishes and values is both valid and viable.

    Democratic politics is all about representation and I myself will not be voting for the party but I know people who will or who have considered it and the theme is all the same. They know about KDC and his dislike of Key and they know that it’s not covering all the bases but no party come election time can cover all bases of a potential manifesto credibly so why not stick to what are the key issues for those who they wish to appeal to. Political resonance is often powerful enough to trump more cerebral analysis in the minds of voters if the issues are strongly felt.

    With current voting levels around the mid 80% (correct me if I am wrong) that leaves a decent sized block of people who could be the backers for the party in the future.

    I think the issue lies not with the party getting votes first time around but more what will happen if it does and how it will go about dealing with being in parliament. If the party ends up selling out its voter base (perceived or otherwise) for some short term gain (ala the Maori party, the lib dems in the UK or Winston back in 96) then there is not likely to be a second chance under that brand.

    Colin Craig has shown that if you lose you can keep on until the next election if you have the funds and KDC is not short on that so the issue is less one of credibility at this stage and more around how they get the votes and what will they do with them if they end up in parliament.

    There are examples in Pol science of people tapping into disenfranchised voter bases (Obama in 2008 and McGovern in 1972 spring to mind the most easily) and while they did have well-oiled and tactical party machines behind them the driver was not to sway older established voters as much as it was to vitalise younger and disenfranchised potential voters. That is clearly the game IP is playing.

    If IP is playing the long game or at least has some foresight then this discussion will have already been had but as always the variables of a particular electorate (in this cases NZ) needs to be well known and played to make things work.

    The proof of this pudding will come when the votes are all in and counted.

  2. Thanks Daniel, that was a useful analysis. I guess my misgivings have to do with the short-livedness of the party, the relative inexperience of most of its candidates and the narrowness/shallowness of its core policy concerns. I would have thought that a longer term development program, pointing to 2017, was more likely to result in success in that election and beyond, but perhaps this is a case of learning as they go, including losing to win in the long game. The question is: will IP survive this election in order to play the long game, especially if Dotcom is not in the picture?

  3. To be fair, I have probably the same misgivings as you do regarding IP and I struggle to pull away from the analysis of personality that seems to be the main focus of much political reporting these days but from a straight issue position and campaign approach (and I admit that such a thing is not really possible with a political analysis but for a more genuine Pol Sci analysis here why not) the IP does cover or appear to want to cover those gaps which are appearing in the NZ political landscape just as other parties like Mana and the Greens have coalesced around particular core issues.

    Your point about Dotcom being in or out of the picture is probably a key factor in this as if it really does turn out to be a vehicle for his own gaols then the party will fail or it will be forced to expel him from it to save itself.

    I would guess that funding may be the driving issue in the long run, as the Conservatives seem to have shown. As long as a party without any members in parliament can maintain some stream of funding then it can remain active and carry on its agenda (whatever that may be) until the next election and then try again. How a party does that without I don’t know but I freely admit that I don’t know enough about such things to say that it can or cannot be done.

  4. Daniel, good commentary and a perfect freudian slip “…a vehicle for his own gaols”

    IP seem to be cannibalising the Green vote. My view is that there are far too many inherent contradictions for longer term success. I agree with Daniel that they would not recover from selling out their supporters.

    Despite having more than 10% of the vote the Greens have never been part of government. Pablo, Why do you think it is better to have more small parties when the total number of MPs’ is only 120~?

  5. Phil:

    I like the wider diversity of representation MMP potentially offers (even if that representation is not always high quality, as in the case of the Maori Party, ACT, United Future or NZ First, to say nothing of that freak Colin Craig). I also think that it forces flexibility in large party policy platforms as they seek coalition partners.

    What I do not like about MMP is that it also leads to splintering, which is often the result of personal venality and opportunism on the part of politicians unwilling to participate in united front-style political partnerships or remain as members of larger parties. My specific concern in this regard is with the splintering of Left representation to the advantage of a more united Right.

  6. Phil:

    Good spotting but less a Freudian slip and more bad spelling.

    I have a few thoughts about the coming election and thought I might share them here given the discussion.

    With the recent jump by Labour and corresponding slip by the Nats the stage is set for what could be a wild ride come polling day.

    If those numbers stay close or even closer then all manner of strange alliances may spring into being.

    And this is where, in an MMP environment, things will get very interesting with tactical voting and all the rest. Also this is the environment where an extra seat or two can make all the difference and that’s up for grabs for all manner of contenders, or at least that’s what they think.

    So the minor party polling is now open for business and each must have their plans and goals.

    ACT is undoubtedly going to try for Epsom again and I would like to think that the voters there may have had enough but if they voted for them last time I have trouble imagining them turning away now just because of JB being charged in court.

    Conversely the rational part of me wants to say that the Conservatives may have enough to get something but the gut feeling is it will be always a bridesmaid for Colin Craig as no deal from National for him.

    The difference between these two outcomes reflects what ACT and the Conservatives really mean to Nationals strategists and that includes any comments made by each party’s respective leaders. ACT reflects a more purer version of what National wishes it could be, and I have heard that comparison more than enough times to thinks it’s more than just political hyperbole.

    The Conservatives, on the other hand, Colin Craig and his comments aside or included, reflect something that even National is not willing to touch. Think about that for a second, the “economic rationalism” and “One Nationalism” that ACT represents is fully acceptable to National but Colin and whatever he represents is not. Craig and his ambiguous representation for the supposed moral majority in NZ has more than enough of the wrong stuff for even National to consider getting into bed with. That in itself is a powerful indicator of what kind of calculus the party is working as noted above the gap between parties always closes as the election approaches and Key was recently telling supporters not to get complacent when Labour was wallowing at 20% indicates that he knew that it would come down to one small party or another as having a small but crucial number of seats to allow the Nats to govern without too much worry in their third term.

    Craig then will really need to have to get on his knees if he wants to win as praying is the only chance he now has.

    In the middle sits the Peter Deune and his one man party. Short of a miracle, and Colin Craig may already be asking for that so let’s assume it won’t happen, Peter will get back in and continue his support of national if they win. No more to be said there except to note that I always considered that seat open for spoiling candidates but maybe that’s just me be malicious.

    Winston Peters is the twisted and kinky Doppelganger of Peter Deune (given the reverse of the Peter in the titles as the giveaway). He is what Peter wishes he could be, the aging rock star of NZ politics with his also aging fan base and nostalgia appeal. To be sure Winston always gives good show and also to be sure he will squeeze every last drop out of whoever comes a calling should NZ First get over the 5% or a seat. The problem for Winston is that his decision not to work with race based parties puts him at odds with some who might also come into the mix should the Nats win. How that works out is dependent on the elections big winner.

    Next up it’s the Maori party. To be honest I don’t know how well they will do given their time with National and Mana’s alliance with KD so despite claims that they can win all Maori seats there seems to be enough spoiler factor to make for an interesting race. Mana, now charged up and ready to go, has a new party machine and political war chest to take into battle so all bets are off.

    The Greens, well what can I say. They have a very pure strain of politics and may hold a big part of the key to Labour getting back in. An argument I had recently with a mate was that labour did need to accommodate the greens more than Labour was really willing to do. My Mates position was that the greens had no one else to play with should coalition time come and therefore would have to suck it up and go red no matter what. This is true but my argument was that the greens might be able to leverage a lot more out of Labour than they would normally give. It’s not hard to imagine the Pavlovian level of salivation among Cunlife and Co at the prospect of getting into government and then the sudden turning off of the drool tap as they realise that the 12 to 15% that the greens are loaning to them to get them over the line come with some heavy conditions. What those are I don’t know but the delicate fission seen between the two parties at times belies something deeper but I don’t know what. If I had to guess it’s the one thing that Labour is putting off thinking about until after the election and should that miracle occur (given the level of people getting on their knees here I think the big G might be busy between now and polling) and the one thing that the Greens are thinking about right here and right now. Come the day after polling we will see.

    And final IP. I left them to last as right now I don’t think they really going to cannibalise the Green vote (sorry Phil) as while they do appear to have a similar mix of idealism in them the IP are clearly gearing their appeal to tap into that now identified but possibly untappable “unrepresented” segment of the electorate which they are basing their hopes on.

    The Green voters I know are mostly comfortable middle class liberals not fire brand radicals or disposed youth or whatever label you wish to attach to this demographic. No I think IP can and will pick up votes from a number of areas and if youth can be brought into play in enough numbers then this might be enough to give them some momentum. I am aware of the old idea that youth often vote in the same manner as their parents but that is less a truism and more a general observation. NZ politics at this time under MMP shows that while the right seems monolithic compared to the left these assessments are more around generational groupings than other factors and while it’s not the springbok tour there is enough dissent in the air to fuel IP and it’s not all coming from the left.

    The trick here is IP being able to live up to its name and promise. If it becomes the KD show or another bandwagon of old school radicals then kiss goodbye any chance of getting anywhere. But first time parties with open goals and untested manifestos, at least in NZ, have all sorts of potential.

    NZ First (and Social Credit to some extent) is a classic example of selling a message (in their case opposition to National) and then blowing it completely (less social credit here) by siding with them to form a government. In many ways it’s what built the Winston brand but also what completely ruined the actual party in the minds of many voters come ever trusting him again.

    The unhappiness with spying laws, the national broadband thing and a general lack of seeing the potential offered by the internet means that a shrewd party plan could drag in more than enough across the political spectrum to the 5% with a clear message (read Obama Hope and Change) and then be in a position to be part of a government if national does not make it. Again as I have said this is a hard game to play and it relies of not selling out for short term gain and that assessment lies in the hands of the party leaders. IP is a political marriage between possibly/probably disparate bedfellows with KD as the somewhat cherubic (and suspect) priest and how long the honeymoon lasts is anyone’s guess.

    The overall for all of this is that the election is less a sure thing for National, and Key knows this, and more open season than many would ever guess. Behind all of this is the slow change that MMP has given to NZ politics by allow for the smaller groupings that would have been buried inside the big two under FPP to go it on their own under MMP. I know a lot of people dislike that but the idea of NZ still under FPP and still stuck with just two parties blows my mind in a really bad way.

    That slow change that has been simmering away for near 20 years and possibly longer is the herald of the approaching shift in the sheer demographics of NZ politics. The tectonic change if you will that shake up the political landscape. National may come to represent the main majority of voters in NZ for the moment (but I doubt that will last) and may form the next government but the sheer number of other parties now able to get or gain seats or votes means that its no longer just the straight one two that FFP had and more now a much longer game being played. In some ways Peter Deune is the best representative of this as he has walked the line for a long time inside government.

    Anyway it’s a rant I know but I do stand by my somewhat half-baked analysis (its Friday and its late) and I want to go for a drink.

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